Sunday, July 02, 2006

Grocery Zoning Amendment Public Hearing 6/29/06

On June 29, approximately 150 Forks residents along with reporters Sarah Mausolf (Express Times) and Joe Nixon (Morning Call) crowded into in the Municipal Building meeting room for the S.R.O. Public Hearing on the Grocery Zoning Amendment.

Board Chairman David Hoff began by explaining that public input would be restricted to that topic only and that although folks came out to speak on Kings Mill & partners newest proposal for 545 acres in the Farmland Preservation (FP) district, they would have to wait for that (Zoning Hearing Board) hearing in August.

Solicitor Karl Kline defined the issue and its history as well as the proposed amendment. It is to establish an additional conditional use for the Employment Center (EC) district that would allow a big box grocery store of up to 100,000 square feet to be built on any EC intersection that has both a collector road and an arterial road or two arterial roads. Sullivan Trail is an arterial road. Uhler Road is a collector road. Giving "conditional use" status means that the Board can impose "conditions," such as traffic mitigation, on any project the fits the criteria for the new use.

The applicant, SamCar of Pittston, PA came before the Zoning Hearing Board in January 2005 seeking relief from 3 zoning restrictions on their 9.2 acre site. Please see FAC Newspage for a complete history of the project to date. At that time they proposed a CVS (permitted use) for the site as well as a fast food/drive through restaurant (not permitted) and a gas station (permitted). They withdrew that application and came back with an "upscale" grocery store proposal (PC, March 9). Traffic has been the focus of most discussion about the project.

The developer has maintained (since the grocery plan was introduced) that if the zoning is not changed to allow a grocery, the permitted CVS store will be built instead (on one of the lots). The developer has several interested grocers (and none of them are Wegmans.)

The ordinance was sent to the Forks Planning Commission (endorsed by them) and to the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission for comment. Ordinance changes require public hearings and this night satisfied that. Lastly, the Board will vote at its regular meeting on July 20 to accept or not accept the ordinance amendment.

Kline added that if the Board approves the amendment, the developer must still do two things:
  1. He must submit a full-blown land development plan which will be subject to review by the Planning Commission and by the Board of Supervisors.
  2. He must submit an application for conditional use to the Board of Supervisors. There will be a public hearing for that too but it will be different because the residents will have a plan to see when they come to the meeting.

Kline also said that that area is going to be developed in the future whether it is a grocery, a drugstore or something else. Development is approved. The Sullivan Trail Business Park is already under construction. Kline said that this is a rare opportunity for the Board to have some input on what is to be constructed in that area.

Supervisor Bonnie Nicholas wanted it known that the developer at no time threatened a lawsuit and that people who were there because they thought they had were misled. The applicant’s attorney, Jim Preston, confirmed that there are no plans for a lawsuit and that if the zoning change is not approved, the developer will proceed with the CVS on one of the lots.

Supervisor David Howell explained the importance of the EC district. He said that these are parcels that do no have homes on them and that they do not have 2.7 children per unit, nor 2 cars per unit. He added that these parcels are designated for commercial development and that it is "vital to our community that we have good businesses there." These businesses will provide jobs and (in the form of income, mercantile, and revalued property) tax revenues. Howell thanked everyone for coming and apologized that there were not enough chairs for all.

Hoff said that he received a signed petition at the start of the meeting and that copies will be made for each Supervisor.


  • Elwood Smith, an ex-Supervisor spoke in favor of the grocery store but not in favor of all the houses being built in the Township. He said that in 1961 he was responsible for the industrial park and that he doesn’t understand why all the houses are going in around the industrial park. He doesn’t understand how it got out of hand.

  • Ken Nagy said when the attorney for the developer says that if the grocery amendment isn’t approved that a CVS will be built on one lot, he fears that Forks will get a pizza parlor and a bank on the other two. Nagy said that Forks has enough banks and pizza parlors. Nagy also said that it is an economic center and it should be used as such. He added that economic centers do not bring kids. He took issue with the literature floating around that said something about a loss of open space since that doesn’t enter into development in the EC. Nagy said that both Uhler and Sullivan are PennDot truck routes and that whatever is built in surrounding communities is going to add to the traffic so Forks should get something that will benefit the community. He said he would welcome competition for the Giant and that at 25th Street prices are lower because there is competition.
  • Fritz Weide pointed out to the Board that Forks was rezoned 7 or 8 years ago and that the new zoning cost money. He said that he hoped that the plans made were the best plans and that he is appalled that a builder will come into the Township (and every other place) and try to force a change to zoning to suit them. He said he didn’t care if it was a grocery store or a CVS or a restaurant. He asked how many people will be employed there and was told approximately 150 people. Weide added that the Township has a traffic problem as well as a "continuous building" problem and that both should be addressed before any rezoning is approved.

Hoff commented that this developer has not threatened the Township and that traffic is the big issue for the Board and if it is not addressed the project will not be approved.

  • Stan Price asked if there was any other land in the Township that would be suitable for a grocery store. Kline answered that there is a parcel in Town Center but that the landowner said that as long as she is alive, it will not be developed. Supervisor John Ackerman added that there is a 10 acre parcel next to Met-Ed on Meco Road. Price said that this is not a question of "who" is coming here but it is a question of modifying the current zoning ordinance. He asked that the Board consider this very carefully as when it is changed it "opens the door" for the next applicant.

Kline explained that the Township has no legal obligation to make this change and that there is no basis for contesting the current zoning since there is an area in the Township where grocery stores are allowed. Kline added that it is up to the Board to decide if it is in the best interest of the Township to make this change.

  • Louis Moyer (Zoning Hearing Board member) said that to him, this is a quality of life issue. He said that it takes him 18 minutes to get to routes 33 and 191 from his home at American General Drive. If he leaves later in the morning (8 AM) he runs into all the commuter traffic and it takes an additional 18 minutes. He said that the traffic is backed up 1-1/4 miles. He noted that the block company’s tractor trailers loaded with tons of cement block make the wide turn to go down Sullivan Trail and that the intersection is a nightmare. He said that at 3:30 PM Victaulic, Binney & Smith, and Dixie employees are all exiting there at the same time and that traffic is backed up a mile in every direction. Moyer said that he would love a grocery store since he shops in Philipsburg now because Giant’s prices are too high. He concluded by saying that he felt that a grocery store would really degrade the quality of life in that area.
  • Attorney Charles Smith said that years ago there was a bad sewer problem in Forks and the Easton area sewer plant had to be expanded. He said that all building was shut down until that was finished. Smith said that he thinks the traffic problem Forks has now is of the same magnitude and that no zoning changes should be accepted until a traffic plan is developed and implemented.
  • Cecilio Cordo (sic) stated that he came to one meeting 9 or 10 years ago because of a panic about bringing MacDonalds to Forks. He said that at that time he suggested to the Board that they have a plan that is not "reactive in nature." He said he told the Board then that they should be looking for the kinds of businesses that they want to have here and that they should not wait for developers to come in with proposals. Cordo added that he hasn’t been to another meeting until now. He said that one of the things that needs to be addressed is the atrocious traffic. He said that it appears that there hasn’t been enough thought put into building and into infrastructure. He concluded by saying that he came hoping to stimulate the Board "to think outside of the box... in order to make the this Township what it deserves to be."

Howell responded that Forks Township is a unique community with lots of disadvantages as far as traffic is concerned. Howell said that the Township has State highways, Route 611, Bushkill Drive, Frost Hollow Road, and Route 115 (down its center). He said that he’s attended 2 years worth of PC meetings and seen that they plan for access to the three main roads from each development. Sullivan Trail goes to a dead end at Knox Avenue where it becomes a residential street and houses cannot be torn down along Cattell Street for a 4 lane highway. Howell added that there is not a lot of PennDot cooperation when dealing with these routes.

Howell said that there is development coming up in LMBT and in Plainfield Township and that Chrin is soon to begin development of commercial lots in the Palmer/Tatamy area. These pressures will affect Forks because Forks is part of an "unfortunate" funnel. Howell added that Forks has caused pressure too because it has double in population in a short period of time.

Howell labeled traffic as a "regional issue" and said that members of the Board attend regional meetings in order to draw attention for Forks’ problems. He said that we are not the source of all of our traffic problems and that there will be more commuters coming through since the only way they can get to where they are going is to come through Forks. He said that in time another interchange on Route 33 will be built but until then Stockertown and Forks will suffer.

Howell said that the Board thinks of traffic all the time. He said that Forks roads were never designed for the volume of traffic that is there today and that an extra lane on Sullivan Trail will allow you to go through town a little quicker but it won’t get you to Route 22 any faster.

Howell assured the audience that if the grocery is approved, the intersection will be too and that traffic will flow through it better. However, when Stockertown and LMBT residents come here to shop, they will bring more traffic. He added that the Township has talked to Panera Bread about coming here and they won’t because we don’t have enough traffic!

Kline said that Ordinance #298 will be on the Board of Supervisor’s agenda for the July 20th meeting.

Our objective is to relate what is experienced at Forks Township meetings for those who cannot attend. We are attempting to be as factual as we can. If we make a mistake, tell us via email or COMMENT here in the blog, and we will do our best to correct it. We are not perfect. We want to get it right.

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